Bloody Photos of the “Bloodless” Crime Scene Emerge

Aside

ImageWhen Calvin Moses and his passengers came upon a young John Hartman badly beaten, barely alive, and draped over a curb around 2:50am on that cold night in October 1997, the sight of his body was so frightening that the four adults did not get out of the car for fear the attackers were still nearby. They rushed to a nearby apartment complex and called 911. In fact, John Hartman was so bloody and badly beaten that they could not tell if he was a boy or girl, face up or face down. Only that if he was alive, he was barely alive.

One EMT who responded to the call was so badly shaken that he called home, woke his wife, and pleaded with her to lock the door. In the first newspaper article about the case (HERE) the lead detective described the crime scene as “horrific.”

Perhaps Detectives Aaron Ring and Jim Grier (who did the bulk of the police work on this case) believed that when the lab results came back from the car, the clothes, boots, shoes, hands, and feet of the four young men they had arrested in the hours immediately following the girssly discovery of the murdered boy, that the lab results would show what any reasonable person would expect to find on the people and car used to commit a violent stomping and beating death – DNA. And lots of it. But the lab results didn’t tie the Fairbanks Four to the victim. So, they tested, and retested. They took Marvin’s car apart to the point that it cannot be reassembled, searching for blood. And they found NONE.

NO DNA EVIDENCE HAS EVER LINKED THE FAIRBANKS FOUR TO THE CRIME THEY ARE CHARGED WITH COMMITTING.

When the police realized that there was no physical evidence linking Marvin Roberts, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent, or George Frese to the murder of John Hartman, they did not begin looking for other leads. They did two things – they shopped for jailhouse snitches and “lost” a lot of evidence that would have supported claims of innocence by the four young men and pointed to the guilt of others.

So many things have been lost in the Fairbanks Four case. Life. Time. Freedom. Hope. Memory. Intangible things.

But a lot of other things were lost. Tangible things. Evidence. For example, the first interview police did with Chris Stone. That was “lost.” The transcript of the police interview with EJ Stevens simply directs the reader to the audio recording. Somehow, it was lost. Perhaps no coincidentally “lost” piece of evidence stands out more than the missing crime scene pictures. With no photographs of the crime scene, the public and juries had to rely on the word of the investigators who examined the crime scene (primarily Ring and Grier).

For many in the Native community the moment that the crime scene went from “horrific” to “virtually bloodless” was the moment when it became completely clear that something was extremely wrong with this case. These are, after all, a people who have many times seen a death on the first winter snows when they are blessed with a moose to feed their families. The idea that place where a boy was kicked and beaten to death would be bloodless has long seemed to be a deliberate lie. We can now confirm that anyone who saw the crime scene and later described it as bloodless was lying, and readers can confirm that for themselves by looking at the recently unearthed photograph above.

When KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage did their documentary The 49th Hour: The Fairbanks Four, they were granted access to the historical footage shot by KTVF. During this same KTUU documentary (which you can watch HERE) the CURRENT Fairbanks Police Department police chief applauds the exemplary work of the detectives who investigated the murder of John Hartman, even calling it “model” police work. In that film footage from KTVF that KTUU producers unearthed, buried in the long-forgotten reels of film shot the day that John Hartman died, were a series of images of the crime scene the police and DA described as bloodless. This photograph of the place John Hartman was killed looks exactly as we would have imagined.

Those of us that live with the land and feed our children with what we can gather and hunt know something about blood and snow. We have seen the warm blood of an animal hit snow and race across the surface, frozen. We have seen it seep, and spread slowly from a wound. The place where a life is taken, even when taken respectfully with one swift and cordial wound, is marked on the snow until spring washes it away. We know the way that snow makes blood sticky, how the course hair of moose cling to your hands and boots and resists any attempt to cast it away.

To take a life is to spill blood, and blood remains there where life poured out, and upon those who touched it. It tracks on boots and pants, fingers and hands. Life does not disappear without a trace. John Hartman did not lose his life without leaving a mark behind. Those who killed him did not leave the scene of the crime without the blood of John Hartman on their feet, in their car, on their clothes, their shoes, and hands.

That DNA evidence probably washed over time, as seasons changed. But blood is on the hands of many in the case of the Fairbanks Four: Those who really did kill John Hartman, those who chose to deliberately wrongfully convict the Fairbanks Four believing they had so little value that they would never be remembered and fought for, and those who “lost,” altered, hid, corrupted, and lied. Those people have blood on their hands that cannot be washed away with water or with time. For all those in our community and world who have blood on their hands through murder, corruption, conspiracy, or through the crime of silence, we have a prayer always on our lips and in our hearts for you – that someday you will be free from the prison you built for yourself. That you will choose to redeem yourself as best you can during your time on this earth. That you remember that every day that innocent men spend in prison for a crime they did not commit, you commit another crime, and your guilt grows.

You can try to bury the truth. You can try to outrun it, you can try to lose it by forcing it deep into the darkest theatres of the mind. But you cannot destroy it. You can take a lot from another human being – their life, their time, even their hope. But you cannot take their story, and you cannot take the truth. Truth has a power of its own, and someday, the truth will FREE THE FAIRBANKS FOUR.

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Hope – A Letter from George Frese

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This letter needs little introduction, if any at all. George Frese wrote this from his cell in Spring Creek Correctional Center, a maximum security prison where he is waiting. Waiting, approaching his 15th year of incarceration for a crime he did not commit. A crime to which no physical evidence ever connected him, committed against a boy he never met, on a night he spent with half a dozen alibi witnesses. Most importantly, a crime that people outside the walls confining him have information about. Information that could allow him to receive a new trial. This information is the key that unlocks his cell and sends him home. These people have chosen to remain silent for many years out of fear and a false belief that someone else should come forward, and that their non action hurts no one. This letter is to them.

They say time heals all wounds, but what if it was the complete opposite? Where every moment that passed you by was an accumulation of pain, sadness, loneliness, and missed memories? This is the life that has been dealt to the Fairbanks Four.

Nearly fifteen years have been accumulated. Sixty years when you add all four of our lives together. Perhaps thousands of years when you include our family and friends.

The first fourteen years were tough, but none as tough as the past year. The last year has allowed me to see family that I haven’t seen in nearly twelve years because I spent all of that time in an our of state prison. The ones that I have seen have aged considerably and have caused me to feel a sense of urgency to be home. Old friends come back and new friends have been made.

All this publicity has caused out hopes to soar. Hope that the powers that be will have mercy and give us back to our families. Hope that anyone with information will come forward and free us from our misery. Hope that all this ends. Hope that it happens soon. Hope that we will be free to follow our dreams and not take anything for granted.

Always Hopin,

George Frese

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An Interview with George Frese

Dan Bross of KUAC here in Fairbanks, Alaska did a brief segment on the reward increase to $35,000 and was gracious enough to share the unedited full audio with us. Unfortunately, George’s interview was cut short when the prison went on lockdown because of a violent episode – he had a lot more to say. In the future we will bring you direct conversations with the Fairbanks Four, so if there are any questions you would like to hear them answer, let us know in the comment section.

There is an important reality in hearing George go on lock down – these men live in a horrible place, intended to be a hell on Earth. Do not let their optimism or hope confuse you; let it inspire you and impress you. These young men have managed to hold onto faith, hope, inner peace, and have done the incredible work of holding onto themselves in an environment that is designed to take all of that away. Society would like to believe that the wrongfully convicted are simply sent away, or locked up, that to wrongfully convict a person costs them time, but nothing more. Prison is a violent, brutal, miserable place. The wrongfully convicted are sent to the worst environment that America could engineer, and live among the worst humanity has to offer. None of the Fairbanks Four speak much or dwell much on the darkest sides of their story, but to understand the cost of wrongful conviction, we must understand what it really means to send four innocent adolescent men into this environment and keep them there for 14 years.

Below is the interview with George Frese, who is speaking from Spring Creek Correctional Center, where he could spend the next 83 years unless this injustice is corrected.

 

 

“When Are You Coming Home?” – A Letter from George

A person always tells their own story best. We could write a thousand pages without expressing the simple truth as well as one short letter.  George is not a particularly sentimental person, so I know it took a lot to write this.It never fails to humble and amaze me that all four of these men have faith that this experience was meant to be and will serve a larger purpose. I think it is hard for many of us to keep faith in a life with all our freedom and every advantage - that they have found strong faith in a relatively hopeless place is.....beautiful.

If this letter moves you, get out there, and spread the word!! There is a lot of power in the truth, it has a way of spreading far and wide when it is repeated!

Also (since George begins this letter teasing Kevin) it is probably a good time to clarify that Kevin is Outside Indian and White, not Alaska Native. We have been asked about that a few times, and although it is not terribly important, thought this would be a good time to clarify for readers that Eugene, Marvin, and George are all Alaska Native, that Kevin is Native American and white.

Want to help bring George home? Sign our petition – click HERE!

I Shall Be Released – Video Post

This short video covers the most basic information about this case. This is a great thing to pass along, link to, post on Facebook, tweet, text, and spread far and wide. Many people who do not have the time to read the case files have three minutes to watch a video.

The soundtrack is I Shall Be Released as sung by Walter Trout and the Free Radicals

They say everything can be replaced

But every distance is not near

So I remember every face

Of every man who put me here

They say ev’ry man needs protection
They say ev’ry man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Some place so high above this wall
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

 

Alibis and Witnesses III

Crystal Sisto is mom to six kids, and as if that isn’t enough she also fills many, many roles in her position at BLM where her job duties range from auditing and payroll to equipment and crew hire. Crystal works and lives in Venetie, Alaska. In 1997 she was living with George Frese and the young daughter the two had together. They were middle school and high school sweethearts and became parents together at a young age. Needless to say, the events of October 1997 changed the course of her life, and her young daughter’s life forever. Her story is a powerful reminder that the reach of injustice is far. Yet despite the hardship she encountered, Crystal has never lost faith that the justice system will eventually work, and that these men will be exonerated. It is still hard for Crystal to talk about that night and the events that followed, but she has courageously agreed to share her story.

CRYSTAL ON THE EVENTS OF THAT NIGHT

It has been so many years its hard to remember everything. But a few things I know, will never forget, is that George was home at 1:30 am that night. I am sure. Also I know that George would have never done this kind of thing.

Okay, on October 12th. There was a wedding going on and at first we went to check that out, and I went to Cabaret for a bit. George and those guys made a run to the liquor store Patrick Henry went for them and had purchased 2 cases of beer a bottle of Bacardi……there was Vernon, myself, Patrick Henry, Edgar Henry, and George.

Patrick and I went to Cabaret and those guys went to out apartment. Then after a short while Patrick and I went to the apartment. My brother and his now wife were upstairs watching the baby. Those guys were already really drunk when we got there. We sat around at the apartment playing drinking games till my show was over that was around 1:30.

I know it was 1:30 in the morning because my show just ended at 1:30am, so they decided to check out the wedding at the Eagles Hall. It was Patrick, Edgar, George, John, On the way down they were going to stop at a friends that lived in the apartments next to the AK motel on Cushman.

George snuck into cabaret (also known as Elbow Room) and it was about 2:45 or 3 in the morning. He was in there with my mom and dad…he made it home between 3:30 to 4 or so in the morning……he had got a ride to part way and then walked. We sat around and continued to drink and laugh and then Vernon and George went to the bathroom to smoke a cigarette and it was the last one and they started to wrestle and became a little serious and in the end he hurt his foot in the bathroom.

CRYSTAL ON THE EVENTS THE NEXT AFTERNOON

George tried to lay down after a while. When he got up he was in pain and so we decided to go to the ER and I even explained it the nurse when she came in. She said something about downtown, and I told her no, and told her how he hurt his foot and she was like huh….then they took a long time to see him and then we found out she called the cops and said he was involved in the crime……I still can not believe an assumption from an ER employee could nurse would change our lives forever…….

When the police got to the hospital they talked with us for about an hour, and then they turned on the cassette tape. It was crazy the things they were saying, it was just like he was in trouble no matter what he said. Everything that happened there and everything and the way they interrogated him was not right. He gave in because he was drunk and tired and in pain. He just wanted it all to end and go home.

Georges shoes were sooo old the soles had holes in them and the tracks on them were flat and gone. We could not afford shoes for him. He kept his so I could get new ones and he kept his old ones, you could see his sock under his shoes…..there were almost no tracks because we were waiting for dividends to get him new ones. They took those shoes at the hospital. They questioned him for a very long time and then eventually they dropped him back off at the apartment. He told us how scary it had been, that he had agreed to this story they told him, that they were saying Eugene and a whole bunch of others had. He just wanted to get home and felt like there was no choice. It was scary.

You all know what happens after that….well anyways I got a hold of Robert Downes, George’s first lawyer and he told me to write everything down,and this was before they printed the times in the paper and on the news, I had it all down on paper the times and everything the whole layout of the night. Later they posted on the news and papers the times and what had happened, the police said I lied and got it off the papers and the news but that was impossible. I said times before anything was ever in the news.

ON GEORGE’S ARREST

My daughter was having a sleep over when they came to our home with bullet proof vest and guns, they came and surrounded our apartment. and searched everyone in my home patting them all down….it was very humiliating and very discouraging. George was laying down and they were yelling at him to stand up and he had no shoes and they threw him against the wall and he had no shoes on and my baby was holding his legs crying and I fell to the floor thinking I was going to wake up and that this was a dream.

I cried and called my dad and mom and they came trying to explain the truth but they said we would all lie. George was handcuffed and had no shoes on……my daughter was crying and I was lost………and little did I know this was only the beginning…..my father told the officers to put Georges shoes on and he is not leaving without shoes on,so they did as my father said and put his shoes on,then my father said can you uncuff him so he can hug his family good bye..they refused and one cop, I think Officer Sullivan, said “Do it, where is he going to go?”

They uncuffed him and he held our daughter tight and told her to be brave and that daddy loves her, then he came to me we looked at each other and then he said I love you, I promise I will be home soon and I will be back. I cried and we held each other so tight I never wanted to let him go, I was scared and he was all I had in life and he was all I ever knew….

ON GEORGE’S PREVIOUS RECORD

(It would come up, over and over in the papers, that George had a record of domestic violence, and therefore a violent past that indicated he was capable of violent assault).

I just wanted to let you know it is not what you think. George was loving and kind and never did hit me. We argued and I called the police with a story. It was me that had hit him, and that I tried to fix . I was the one but they don’t listen, so he told me to be quiet (I hit him). He never would hit a fly. He was never violent not at all.

ON COPING IN THE DAYS, MONTHS, and YEARS TO FOLLOW

I had no faith, courage, hope, or anything to live for anymore, he was all I had! The 3 of us. It was always just the 3 of us and no one else, we had no money but were happiest when we were broke.

You ask me how this changed me, the whole arrests and trials and him being locked away.  I was a drug addict and an alcoholic that wanted to die. I became a cutter and cut myself many times and now I write this thinking how far I have come and thank God for not giving up on me!

It was not easy to move on. It was the hardest part for me, because I would have waited for him till the end of time. He broke it off with me when he realized he was not coming home soon. He said it was the best thing for me and for me to move on. It was like a knife cutting in heart. I did not want to move on –  I wanted my life back.

ON SURVIVING AND MOVING ON

I am thankful each and everyday that God sent Jeremiah my way,when I was at the lowest point in my life and just gave up, there he was holding me, a complete mess, promising me everything will be ok and that he would never leave me,and we have been together since………

My life now is good. It was a long recovery and I have my Love who loves me and he had some big shoes to fill, but in the end he understood where I came from and now he helps me. I have 6 kids and a home and a life I love now….I pray for George every day and know someday the truth will reveal itself!

Thank you for hearing my story. Please pray each day that all our prayers be answered…one day my baby and her daddy will be together again……..

– Crystal Sisto

Crystal and George as pictured in their high school year book, a few short years before George was wrongfully convicted of murder.

Read George’s timeline HERE and a touching letter from Crystal and George’s daughter, now 17, HERE. You can read about George’s interrogation and transcripts of it HERE. Crystal was watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien that night. Across town a woman watching that same show was able to provide the time of Hartman’s attack. Read about that HERE.

If you or anyone you know has information about other suspects in the Hartman murder, please come forward. You can call the Innocence Project at 907-279-0454 or email them at info@alaskainnocence.org There is a reward that is always growing for information leading to exoneration.

If you were with any of the Fairbanks Four this night, please consider coming forward and sharing your story.

Dead Man Walking – A Witness and Song Come Forward

“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

In the days and weeks following the murder of John Hartman many, many people who came forward to tell the truth were treated poorly by police, threatened, and terrified by their experiences. In barely veiled threats, some were even made to believe that if they stuck with their story they may become suspects in the murder as well.

“You keep asking me for the truth, I keep telling you the truth, I don’t understand…” cried one fifteen year old being interviewed. Incarnations of her fear, tears, confusion, and BRAVERY when being pressured to give up the truth and accept someone else’s lies are echoed in many, many interviews with the case.

Why? Because by telling the truth in a climate of deceit, these ordinary people were threatening to tear down all that the investigators thought they had built in the early days following John Hartman’s murder.

The police had a lot of things going for them in the moments, hours, and days immediately following John Hartman’s death. They had four men in custody, two of whom relented to some degree to the aggressive and relentless interrogation and had arguably implicated themselves in a murder. They had collected shoes and boots, pants and shirts, jackets and caps, and the alleged getaway car. All evidence was sent to a crime lab, and they likely expected the tests performed there to confirm their theory. Early, brief conversations with the a handful of the people the men claimed to have spent the evening with made it seem at least possible that all four of the men had been at the Eagles’s Hall at 2 am or shortly after. The police theorized that they had met up at that point, taken a short drive down the street, beaten and sexually assaulted John Hartman for being white, then parted ways. Perhaps they expected that as time went on more witnesses would come forward to confirm their theory. They announced that the crime was solved, and maybe they believed it was. A story of the beating appeared on the front page of the local paper, followed the next day by mug shots of the four arrested. And then, the station was flooded with calls. Witnesses did come forward, including one call that would throw the first of many, many wrenches into the case the investigators were building.

The call came from Melanie Durham, a resident at the women’s shelter adjacent to the crime scene. A house where women and children go to escape fists and feet and men that would hurt them. A place women go so that they do not have to hear children plead weakly for help. On the deck outside this place, Melanie heard a murder.

Melanie said that she knew what time John Hartman had been killed. She had been watching the Late Night with Conan O’Brien show that night, and David Bowie was the musical guest of the evening. She is not a Bowie fan. As he began his performance at 1:30 am, she stepped outside for a cigarette. As the door shut behind her, David Bowie played the first acoustic notes of his song for the evening. He played “I’m Afraid of Americans,” and  “Dead Man Walking.”

Melanie could not hear Bowie’s voice haunting the air inside, “I’m gone, gone gone, like I’m dancing on angels. And I’m gone, through a crack in the past…”

Outside the air was freezing cold and dead empty, silent. Melanie lit a cigarette. Then, she heard a smacking sound, a crack in the silence. A familiar sound. Violence had brought her to this place, she knew its soundtrack. She heard one smack, another, another. She heard a small voice plead for help. She heard darker voices respond without mercy. And then, a return to silence.

Melanie rushed inside, told a night shift worker at the shelter what she had heard. The two stood outside together for a moment, listening. They heard nothing. So, they did not call for help.

Inside, perhaps  David Bowie crooned the last of his song, “I know who’s there, when silhouettes fall…… and I’m gone..”

When Melanie saw the article about the boy in the paper, she called the police to tell them her story, to tell the truth. Her timeline was strong, and through it, police established that John Hartman was beaten to death in an assault that lasted the length of a song. 1:30 to 1:35am

This information changed things. All of a sudden, it was crucial to know about time, to the minute. Naturally, these investigators returned to their notes, the others they had interviewed, to verify that the four in custody had no strong alibis during those critical five minutes. But what they found, probably much to their surprise, was that all claimed to have been elsewhere at 1:30am. And initial interviews with the witnesses who had seen them appeared to confirm that claim.

So, they returned. More interviews, more people. People who would continue, by and large, to tell a very simple truth. Only this time they would be treated as criminals. As revolutionaries, threatening the powers that be. Because, when the police heard the truth, a time of deceit had already begun. These small truths were cracks in the theory, threatening to break apart the entire story.

In the days to follow we will provide details of the police interviews that came in the early days of the investigation, and letters from some of those who were interviewed, who have graciously and bravely agreed to tell their stories again.